Sydney Festival Chairman apologizes for festival board handling of Israeli sponsorship issue

Sydney Festival President David Kirk apologized for the event’s handling of a funding controversy.

Dozens of artists withdrew from the festival following its decision to accept $ 20,000 from the Israeli embassy for a dance performance.

The council decided to keep the money.

Kirk said the festival put artists in a very difficult position.

“They feel compromised, a lot of them, and a lot of them are under pressure to withdraw their performances from the festival,” he told RN Breakfast.

“And we’re so sorry about that. This is something we never wanted to do and never want to happen again.”

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Kirk said the festival would undertake a full review of how they found themselves in a position where performers felt unsafe and compromised.

The Sydney festival regularly accepts sponsorship from foreign embassies and cultural agencies, he said, and the board did not specifically address the likely fallout of accepting embassy funding. from Israel.

He said he first heard of the funding when he saw the Israeli Embassy logo on the printed program.

“I guess we just missed it. I mean, that’s all we can say,” Kirk said.

“We must, I suppose, in this sense, offer a mea culpa.”

He said he has no plans to step down and the board is currently focused on the festival.

“I’m not trying to hide the fact that it was a mess,” Kirk said.

“We should have understood, we should have been prepared to debate a lot more at the time, but we didn’t.”

Artists “threatened” on social networks

Palestinian poet Sarah Saleh, who is one of the organizers of the campaign against Israeli funding, said more than 100 artists and teams have joined the boycott of the festival.

“It sends a clear message to government entities and to the Sydney Festival: ‘Do not do business with an apartheid regime’,” she said.

Israel’s deputy ambassador to Australia Ron Gerstenfeld said “agents of chaos” were intimidating artists into supporting the boycott.

“We have heard a lot about people targeted, threatened, via social networks of course but also by other means,” he said.

He said Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), the organization behind the boycott, had campaigned aggressively.

“They want to do everything in their power to destroy, to disrupt, they don’t want the embassy to continue.”

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Saleh said she could not control the actions of the passionate fans who were very attached to the issue.

But she said the organizers of BDS approached their conversations with the artists with care and sensitivity.

“We are trying here to build a movement and a future based on freedom, liberation, love and equality for everyone, so for us it is really important that this is how we approach things”, she declared.

Kirk said the “hits” received by some artists on social media about it were unacceptable.

He said the festival chose not to have a “public day nursery” with the boycott organizers, but rather to speak privately with artists and other groups.

“There will be different views as to whether this was successful or not,” Kirk said.

The Sydney Festival runs until January 30.

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